Monday, January 30, 2012

Negronis with FIG, Live and Online!

Brooks Reitz, who oversees the splendid bar down at FIG, will be making an appearance Wednesday night (February 1st) at 8:00 p.m. on HDNet's Drinking Made Easy video podcast.

Reitz will be talking Negronis with host Zane Lamprey, and they couldn't have picked a better topic. FIG doesn't just serve a Negroni but rather an entire menu of Negronis--nine variations on the gin-and-campari classics, to be exact, a refreshing break from our fallen world of specialty Cosmos and citrus-infused vodka Martini concoctions.

Check it out Wednesday night.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Growing up Poor in the South (or, The Southern Cross)

So, just a little while ago I was reading a nice Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker by Tad Friend about the actor/comedian David Cross.  Cross apparently just moved from the East Village to "Dumbo", which sounds like it might be the Gotham equivalent of  "B. F. E.", but turns out to actually stand for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" in Brooklyn, which, if you ask me, is taking this whole SoHo, NoMa, etc. thing way too far.

Anyhow, the thing that grabbed me was not the silly acronyms but rather this line: "The comedian grew up poor in the South."  Actually, what really grabbed me was not the line itself but rather what surprisingly did NOT come after it, which was an explanation of where it was in the South that Mr. Cross grew up.  It's not like Cross has a distinctive Texas drawl or one of those rapid-fire Piedmont Carolina accents that immediately nail down someone's hometown.

The geographical description "in the South" is simply too vague and non-descriptive, not quite so bad as saying "from North America", but certainly not too much more precise.  Perhaps to a New Yorker it's all the same, but to me, at least, there's a huge difference between, say, growing up poor in Miami, Florida, than there is in Elkins, West Virginia, or Houston, Texas, or Demopolis, Alabama.

Cross, if Wikipedia is to be believed, was actually born in Atlanta and grew up mostly in Roswell, an Atlanta suburb, broken up with a few stints in New York and Connecticut--and, his father is British.  Which may help explain why when I asked my wife (who, as it happens, lived briefly as a child in Elkins, West Virginia) where she thought David Cross was born, she said, "I don't know. Canada?"

I'm heading to Manhattan on Wednesday for work. I doubt I'll find time to visit Dumbo, but when people ask me where I'm from, I'm just going to say, "the South."  I'm curious to see whether that'll satisfy 'em.  Hell, they might assume I mean Red Bank, New Jersey, and just leave it at that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, Jeez, Not ANOTHER Burger

Guess which Charleston eatery the burger in the picture to the left comes from . . .

You're right.  It's a little hard to tell, since it really could be from any number of local restaurants.  (Hint: the wine stem in the picture is an important clue.)

The pic ran with the review from my colleague Eric from over at the Charleston City Paper of Vino Burgerz, a new gourmet burger spot that opened just up the road from me in Mt. Pleasant.

What?  What? you're probably asking yourself.  Some one went out on a limb and dared to open a gourmet burger restaurant?  In 2012?

Well, Vino opened in 2011, actually. As Eric points out in his opening, a few weeks ago we collaborated on a "2011 in Retrospective" piece that, drawing on every bit of keen insider knowledge we had, identified that big fat gourmet burgers were one of the big dining trends of 2011--an observation almost as perceptive as noting in the midst of a hurricane that it's raining.

But, I can now officially declare that big fat burger fatigue has set in (for me at least).  If I wanted to count the joints within a five mile radius of my house that serve house-ground half-pound burgers with hand cut fries, I would need both hands and might even have to take off a shoe.

Vino Burgerz does have the rather unique twist of adjoining a wine shop and offering wine pairings with burgers rather than the more traditional beer.  (Hey, there's an idea: a gourmet burger joint that serves "craft beer" on tap: that would be something new!)  And I'm sure the burger is pretty damn good (it looks great in the picture).  But in the end, how many of those big whopping monsters can the residents of one city eat?

The picture in and of itself, I think, helps explain the extraordinary deluge of high-end burger joints we've been seeing lately.  Look closely at what's on the bun.  It's all the crap that we were told we couldn't eat for 20 years--red meat (and undercooked red meat, at that),thick smoky bacon, gooey cheese, and a fried egg with a golden runny yolk, too (salmonella, schmalmonella!).  And, of course, hand-cut fries, all golden brown and wrinkly with little bits of crispy peel still clinging to them probably fried in peanut oil if not pure beef tallow.  If you're going to fall off the wellness wagon, you might make it a splendid bender.

But, one wonders how much longer it can last.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No, I'm Not Kidding

In case you doubt the wood-fire grill trend, Nathan Thurston is jumping ship from the Ocean Room out at Kiawah to open a new restaurant with a 1940s era grill room and . . . wait for it . . . a "wood-fired grill-rotisserie".

If you ain't cooking over wood in 2012, you're so 2011.

You heard it hear first.  Or at least relatively early.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Are Wood-Fired Ovens the Wave of the Future?

A few weeks ago, I made the prediction in a City Paper piece that 2012 would be the big breakout year for cooking in wood-fired ovens.

For the better part of the year I've been perfecting wood-roasting chicken on my backyard grill (one of those BBQ barrel models), which is not quite the same barbecuing but has fantastic results.  (For a low-and-slow barbecuing session, you cook the meat at around 225 degrees for hours and hours on end; for wood-roasting, you cook it at 325 - 350 degrees for the same amount of time you would in your kitchen oven.)

Now, Ken Albala is taking it way further and experimenting with his own homemade backyard clay oven, with some tasty looking initial results with roasted quail.  Now, admittedly, Albala, a food historian at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, is a little more adventurous than your typical Saveur-reading foodie.  The list of traditional foods and beverages he makes at home is quite intimidating--sausages, cheeses, mead, goose confit, and 1000 year old eggs, just for starters.

But, he is working on a book, tentatively entitled The Lost Art of Hearth and Home, which may well help inspire other home cooks to go way beyond pizza stones and Big Green Eggs and actually construct their own wood-fired backyard baking ovens.

Here's an interesting note from Albala's early experiments.  One of the great things about wood roasting at, say, 325 degrees is the rich smokiness it imparts on chicken, fish, and even root vegetables.  Apparently not so when you crank that heat up towards 1,000 degrees in a clay oven.  "Interestingly," Albala notes about a loaf of sourdough and a spatchcocked chicken, "neither tasted smoky at all.  The smoke really stops once she is super hot."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Live in a Buzzy Destination City!

So, Fodor's has put Charleston at the top of it's list of "Buzzy Destinations", ahead of such not-so-shabby cities as Cusco, Milan, Oahu, and Paris (admittedly, it was an alphabetical list).  And the reason?  Food.  Charleston is where "award-winning chefs pioneer a spectacular Southern food revival."

Not surprisingly, the focus on local, heirloom produce and, of course, Sean Brock's Husk and McCrady's take center stage.  What is curious is that the Grocery, the newest offering from Kevin Johnson which has been open only a few weeks gets prominent mention, too.

It's fun to watch the seeds that our local chefs, restaurateurs, and producers planted several years ago now starting to bear fruit.  And, it also means it won't probably won't get any easier to get a reservation at our hotter downtown spots any time soon. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Scenes from the Road: New Orleans

Just after Christmas, I went away with my wife for a child-free four days in New Orleans, where we proceeded to eat and drink our way across the city.  I've been meaning to write up a thing or two about the trip, but there are so many things to say about it that it's hard to say anything at all.  So, I'll take the easy way out and just post a few pictures from the visit.

Roast Beef Poor Boy, R & Os, less than an hour after landing at Louis Armstrong International

The eponymous cocktail at the Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel

The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Montleone, Home of the Vieux Carre Cocktail

Pork debris, poached eggs, and hollandaise over sliced biscuit: insanely good.  The Ruby Slipper.

The aftermath of a Ferdi Special and cup of red beans and rice at Mother's, Poydras St.

Shuckin' 'em at the oyster bar, Acme Oyster House. Always sit at the oyster bar, and treat your shucker well.  The oysters will be unbelievable cold and fresh, and your dozen may magically stretch its way well into the teens.

    Early afternoon cocktails in the courtyard at Commander's Palace

    Cornbread-Stuffed Quail, Commander's Palace

    No pictures available from the two big dinners: the first at Antoine's (highlights: chair de crabes au gratin and souffle potatoes) and Galatoire's (highlight: crabmeat maison).  At both, it was a rare pleasure to put on a coat and tie for dinner, and in such traditional settings snapping cellphone pics seemed completely out of the question.

    I do have a ton of material reflecting on New Orleans cooking, how it compares to the scene here in Charleston, etc. etc. etc.  Some day it may see the light.  But for now I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

    Monday, January 02, 2012

    New Arrival: The Slaw and the Slow Cooked

    The mail just brought me my two contributor's copies of The Slaw and the Slow Cooked: Culture and Barbecue in the Mid-South, which just came out from the Vanderbilt University Press.  It's edited by Jim Veteto and Ted Maclin, who also wrote a couple of essays on sauce and the future of barbecue.

    My own contribution was a historical summary of barbecue in the Mid-South region, which can roughly be defined by drawing a big circle with Memphis at its center: western Tennessee, north Mississippi, Arkansas.    There's a decided anthropological bent to many of the essays (Veteto and Maclin are both anthropologists), but there's plenty of other takes, too, like John T. Edge's profile of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas, and an assessment of barbecue as slow food by Angela and Paul Knipple.

    All told, it's the most comprehensive treatment of the region's barbecue I've seen yet. Plenty of meat, and a little sauce, too.

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